Plitvice is Croatia’s most popular national park, attracting more than one million visitors a year. Its cascades, waterfalls and lakes, 16 in all, changing colour from turquoise to azure to grey according to the minerals in the water and the play of light, give Plitvice the wow power to bring the bulk of this tourist traffic.
This notwithstanding, these dramatic miracles of
travertine, natural dams of moss and algae, barely cover one per cent of Plitvice as a whole. The rest of it, Croatia’s largest national park, is forest and grassland, criss-crossed by seven recommended walking tours to see the lakes, and four hiking trails.
Plitvice is also Croatia’s oldest national park. Such was its popularity among well-to-do Habsburg travellers that a hotel was set up here as early as 1890. Designated a national park in 1949, later declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, Plitvice is handily located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar, and offered as an easy day trip from either.
Each tour of the lakes takes anything from two hours to eight, and can also feature sections covered by panoramic tourist train or electric boat. Everything here is done to protect the park’s natural beauty and there are strict rules on litter and straying off marked trails.
The most popular hiking route, Medveđak, takes in the three peaks of Oštri Medveđak, Tupi Medveđak and Turčić, each between 800 and 900 metres in height. These slopes, and surrounding forests of old beech, are home to wolves, lynx and the brown bears that lend the trail its name. Regular information boards offer tips on wildlife and visitors can also hire a ranger to guide them.
Cycling is only permitted around the edges of the park, along designated roads. In winter, skiing is a major draw, the resort near Mukinje facilitated with a ski lift and even offering a floodlit variety of the sport until 9pm on certain weekends in season.
Several hotels operate in and around the park, including the Plitvice right in the centre. This classic example of 1950s’ design houses 50 rooms, a bar and restaurant, and can be booked through the national park website.